VOTERS had to brave appalling weather to cast their ballot in the first by-election since the coalition Government was formed.
The result in Oldham East and Saddleworth was expected early this morning in what is the first public test of support for Liberal Democrat participation in the coalition and Ed Miliband's fledgling leadership of the Labour party.
Labour made a concerted final push to get supporters to vote, with 40 MPs and 600 activists campaigning in the constituency yesterday. Sources on the ground reported a low turnout, with about 25 per cent of voters casting their ballot by 5pm.
The by-election was sparked by an election court declaring last year's contest void after finding former Labour Minister Phil Woolas had made false statements about the Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins.
Labour pinned its hopes on Debbie Abrahams, who contested the neighbouring Colne Valley seat in the General Election but lost to Tory Jason McCartney.
Prime Minister David Cameron, his Lib Dem deputy Nick Clegg and Mr Miliband have all visited the constituency – which Mr Woolas won by just 103 votes last May – during the campaign.
Defeat for either Mr Miliband or Mr Clegg would be seen as a blow, although Labour were the bookies' favourites to win. The Lib Dem leader was due to meet his Ministers this morning to discuss the result.
Attention will then turn towards Barnsley Central, where a by-election is likely next month after disgraced MP Eric Illsley quit.
Labour enjoys a majority of 11,093 and all parties will have to move quickly to find a candidate after Illsley bowed to pressure on Wednesday and announced he would stand down before he is sentenced next month for over-claiming 14,5000 on his expenses.